Donovan McNabb retired as an Eagle on Monday in a press conference at the NovaCare Complex. But team Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie announced that McNabb would immediately be ushered into the franchise's Hall of Fame and also would have his jersey No. 5 retired.
It is a fitting tribute to "a franchise-changing quarterback" who arrived in 1999 as the second pick in a draft said to be loaded with standout quarterback prospects. McNabb's production far exceeded the accomplishments of Tim Couch, of Akili Smith, of Daunte Culpepper and of Cade McNown and every other quarterback selected in a draft hailed at the time as something special.
He was not a flawless quarterback - none are - but McNabb played with efficiency, with poise and with the discipline to keep possession of the football even if it meant sacrificing his personal numbers.
Head coach Andy Reid made the decision to bring along his rookie quarterback slowly, to integrate him in specific spots during games in order to gain some experience. Doug Pederson was the veteran in charge of teaching the West Coast offense to the rest of the team, and he was the one who served as a guide for McNabb for leadership, work ethic and approach to the NFL game.
As Pederson took his lumps with a rebuilding offensive group, McNabb stayed in the background and watched and learned. When it was his time to step on the field as a starter, McNabb demonstrated just how good a student he was. .
The Eagles finished 1999 with back-to-back wins over Cincinnati and St. Louis as McNabb took the starting job and didn't let it go for a decade. By 2000, the Eagles were a playoff team and ensconced as one of the most successful franchises in the entire NFL.
Along the way, McNabb played in the glaring spotlight being an NFL quarterback provides, where every throw is magnified, every word is scrutinized and where most of the fan vitriol is directed. There were ups and downs in that arena, as well, just like on the field.
But when you take his entire body of work on the field as well as his strong family values and dedication to his teammates, McNabb is one of the best to ever play in a Philadelphia Eagles uniform. The team rallied around him as the roster developed, matured and became a consistent winner for most of the 2000s.
McNabb turned the franchise around. He didn't do it by himself, of course, but McNabb's steady play at quarterback solidified the most important position on the field and propelled the Eagles into a brilliant era of football.
Lurie announced on Monday that McNabb's number would be the ninth in franchise history to be retired and the second in two years (Brian Dawkins in 2012). McNabb and Dawkins are two most impactful players from the years Lurie has owned the team.
The official honor comes, fittingly, when Andy Reid's Kansas City Chiefs play at Lincoln Financial Field on September 19, a nationally televised game that is supremely interesting for many, many reasons.
I know that McNabb turned the Eagles around and that he was the best quarterback the Eagles have ever had. I loved Ron Jaworski and Randall Cunningham, but McNabb won more games and kept the Eagles at a consistently high level much longer than most franchise's enjoy. I know that McNabb had his moments that divided the fan base, and I'll argue that every quarterback has such moments in his career. I know that trading McNabb after the 2009 season was the right thing to do for the Eagles franchise and that no matter how painful it was for both sides, time heals all wounds.
It's great to have McNabb back in the fold, in his rightful place in the team's Hall of Fame and on the lofty perch that comes with having a jersey number retired. McNabb received a warm, wonderful welcome at Alumni Day during Sunday's open practice at Lincoln Financial Field and Eagles fans who remember how good this team was, how deep it went into the playoffs and how much McNabb delivered to them will stand up and give him the ovation he deserves on September 19.
The numbers? That's easy: McNabb is the franchise leader in passing yards, touchdowns, completions and, most important wins and playoff wins. He holds 13 franchise records, and on a league-wide scale, McNabb has the 17th-most passing yards, 22nd in passing touchdowns and 12th in victories.
He did it with a supporting cast that had only one wide receiver (Terrell Owens), who made the Pro Bowl. McNabb made it work with a strong offensive line in front of him, a good game plan, excellent coaching and the adaptability to check down the passing game to the likes of Brian Westbrook, Chad Lewis and L.J. Smith.
In the end, McNabb deserves the honors announced on Monday at the press conference. He is the greatest quarterback in Eagles history, but most important -- and anyone who followed the Eagles in the uneven and sometimes downright awful seasons since the days of Jaworski and then Cunningham -- McNabb turned the franchise around in the right direction for a decade. That's the true mark of a player who earns his spot at the top of the best of the best for the Philadelphia Eagles.